Monumental Collections: Buncombe County Special Collections

written by Bill Kopp

A massive and growing historical archive is housed on the lower level of the Pack Memorial Public Library in downtown Asheville. Home to more than 400 manuscript collections, 25,000 images and a five terabyte digital collection, the Buncombe County Special Collections preserve nearly 400 years of history. Assisting with this work is the nonprofit group, Friends of the Buncombe County Special Collections, which supports the librarians and archivists involved with the ongoing project.

The archival material covers a wide swath of local and regional history. Some of the featured collections include official records of the Asheville Fire Department from 1893 to 1925; written records of Asheville businessman E.W. Grove's investments; and more than 2,000 historic images from the Asheville Post Card Co. While all items and documents can be explored in person at the special collections, an ongoing digitizing program has helped decrease barriers to public access as well.

With a small annual $15 due, the friends group boasts more than 200 members, says Catherine Amos. In 2021, Amos became the nonprofit's treasurer, and soon thereafter took on the additional role of secretary. The organization itself has been supporting the work of the special collections for more than a decade. And while Amos says that her group's work is pretty straightforward, it takes on many forms.

"We support exhibits, internship opportunities, archival projects and professional development for staff," she explains.

One current exhibit now on display inside the special collections explores the history of Pack Square. The timely project, funded by the friends group, was inspired by the ongoing discussion about the site's future layout, following the removal of the Vance Monument.

Additionally, Amos points out, the friends group purchased all books required for the ongoing community learning circle -- an initiative led by Katherine Cutshall, manager of the special collections. "Rather than being a traditional book club," Amos explains, "we've put all the 'curricula' into circulation in the libraries, so folks don't have to purchase those books."

That, she emphasizes, is a nice example of how the nonprofit spends its money: by putting it back into the county.

Of all the challenges the group faces, Amos says that the biggest is letting people know that the Buncombe County Special Collections exist. "There's such a wide breadth of history captured in that one little basement area," she says. "A lot of folks don't remember it's there. But when they do, there's a lot to be learned."

Back to Lifestyle and Culture Main Menu